Rocsana’s Hope was established in 2016, when Stan Nelson was living in Guatemala and realized the tremendous need for a ministry that focused on “aged-out” orphans, yet there were none to be found.
In his own words, this is Stan’s story of his experience and why he chose to dedicate his life to empowering “aged-out” orphan girls to reach their fullest potential as adults.
It has been said that the most significant moments of our lives at the time they are happening do not seem so significant during the moment.. Not until we get far beyond those moments, gain perspective, and look back, do we truly realize how a single moment in time, and what seemed like an insignificant decision, altered the course of our lives.
I was pastoring a small but growing country church in LaCygne, Kansas and I was very content to continue to do so. I was 49 years old and, up to this point in my life, I had never left the country for anything like a mission trip and had no real desire to do so. My in-laws, Allen and Janice Seimears, were veteran mission trip servants and have travelled all over the world doing short-term missions. They would always come back with these amazing stories about what God had done, and indeed, they were utterly amazing and heart-moving stories.
For some reason, I never felt compelled to go myself. In fact, they had invited me on numerous trips over the years and I just never felt like that was something I wanted to do. I loved the United States, thought it was the greatest country on the face of the earth, and was content to stay there. Well, they finally wore me down. They talked me into a trip to Nicaragua that was coming up in a few months. I agreed to go but did not yet have my passport. So, I applied for my passport and began to plan to go on the trip to Nicaragua. About six weeks before the trip, I got a letter from the passport office stating that the birth certificate I had provided was not sufficient to allow them to issue me a passport and that I needed to contact the state of Pennsylvania, get a new and updated birth certificate, and then re-submit my application. Well, that made it impossible to go to Nicaragua for the dates my in-laws were going. There was simply not enough time.
A year later, a door was opened by the Lord to go to Guatemala. One of the missionaries that our church supported had an orphanage in Santa Cruz del Quiche, Guatemala and he invited us personally to bring a team down. Several of the people in my church were excited about it and asked me if we could form a team and go. Since I now had my passport, I figured maybe it was finally time for me to go. I still was not all that enthused about it but made the decision to announce it at church and see who was interested. We had 16 people sign up and so we were off and running.
Skip ahead to two months before leaving for the trip. We were having an organizational meeting to finalize many of the details. It was in that meeting that everything took a hard-left turn. Outside of my oldest son and his wife, every single adult who had committed to go backed out of the trip for various reasons. Needless to say, I was very discouraged. It was now going to be me, my oldest son, and his wife, who were in their early twenties, and three teenagers. I had never even been on a mission trip, let alone led one. So, my frustration boiled over and as the meeting was closing, I announced to everyone that because of these developments, we would probably need to cancel the whole trip. I didn’t even want to go to begin with, so why follow through?
Now this is what I am referring to when I talked about the most significant moments of our lives. After the meeting, my daughter-in-law, who is from Brazil, came up to me and she pulled me aside. With a soft but firm tone, she said to me, “Dad, I think you need to seriously think and pray about this decision because I believe we are supposed to go on this trip!” That really challenged me to not make the decision amid disappointment and discouragement. I took her advice, spent some serious time asking God about it, and ultimately felt led to go forward with the trip. After the final decision was made to continue, I reached out to my in-laws and asked them to join the team because I was not comfortable leading it on my own. They agreed and so it ended up being a modest team of 8 people.
Even on the way to the airport, I was still a reluctant participant. In my mind, my plan was to get the trip over with, get home and get on with my summer and the rest of my life. When we arrived in Guatemala and were making the 4 hour drive up to Quiche, our host asked me what outcome I wanted to see out of the trip. I had not given it much thought so I just blurted out a pat answer “I would like for God to change me this week.” I had no idea just what I was saying and how much He was going to do that.
I had never seen a true orphan before. Outside of Orphan Annie and Oliver Twist, I knew nothing of what it meant to be an orphan in a third world country. By our third day in Quiche working at the orphanage, I was completely overwhelmed. Something was happening inside of me and I instinctively knew during those days that my heart and my life were being completely and irrevocably changed.
I honestly cannot tell you what I expected when I got there. But what I saw were the faces and lives of some of the most beautiful children I had ever seen, how their lives had been destroyed, and how, by God’s grace, they came to the orphanage and had their lives turned around by the work of the people there. I saw kids, both young and older, who were deeply grateful for the least little thing, whose eyes were overflowing with joy and love, and who desperately craved the love and affection that they were denied because of the situations that made them orphans. Every single child competed for our affection and literally pushed each other out of the way for the chance to just get a hug or even touch our hand. I had never seen this before and it changed me. It changed me deeply. God began placing within me the desire to do something to help parentless children. I simply could not go on with my life as if they did not exist. I prayed that others would help me.
I grew up in a very loving and affectionate environment with a mom and dad who were very expressive to myself and my sisters and made sure we knew we were loved and cared for. These kids did not have that. For me, it was the easiest thing in the world to do and I probably gave and received over a thousand hugs and embraces just in that week alone. Several of the kids really attached to me, two of them being older girls at the orphanage that just happened to be sisters.
Now I can honestly say, up to this point in my life, I had mostly lived only for myself. Even though I was a pastor, I was still a very selfish person with my own comfort and happiness being the first thing on my mind every day. Seeing those kids, who had so little, but were so much happier than I was, was a real slap in the face and I was ashamed of how I had lived my life. God was forever changing my heart. He gave my wife and I a special love for the older girls and, in the process, opened our eyes to a whole new area of ministry an d need that we saw was not being met.
Rocsana was the first girl that we bonded with and when she turned 18, we were asked if we would accept her into our home and help her continue to grow spiritually, emotionally, and as a person. We also wanted to continue to help her with her education and continued preparation to function and survive as an adult in Guatemala. A year later we accepted her sister Paola into our home as well and did the same thing with her. It was during this time that we saw a need and we came to discover that many orphan girls actually fear their 18th birthdays. That is because at 18 they must leave their orphanages and go out into the world. The unfortunate truth is that a remarkably high majority of them are simply not ready to do so in any way. Most of them also have not even reached high school yet or have just started so, educationally, the deck is already stacked against them. So the truth is that they are not ready spiritually, emotionally, or even in the area of their ongoing education to compete and survive in Guatemalan society. Then we discovered an even more alarming truth: girls who age out of orphanages at the age of 18 are ten times more likely to become victims of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation than other girls at the same age. This is not only a shocking reality, but it also showed us that not only is the need so great, but that we were being called to help meet that need. Rocsana’s Hope is dedicated solely to that specific demographic of girls who have turned 18 and thus have aged out of their orphanages but have no place to go and no one to help them. There is no government help with housing, food, jobs, or education whatsoever.
We made the hard decision to leave the orphanage in Quiche, return to the United States, and begin the process of forming the ministry of Rocsana’s Hope, named in honor of the very first girl we received into our home and ministry. We spent over a year in preparation and have now returned to Guatemala and officially launched the ministry in February of 2019. So, while we are a brand-new ministry, we are already experiencing the blessing of making a difference in the lives of young ladies who otherwise might not have any hope.
And so what began as a reluctant mission trip to a third world country in June of 2014 turned out to be a life-changing experience, not just for us, but for the hundreds of young ladies who are going to receive help confronting their past, impacting their present, and receiving hope for their future.
I will forever be grateful for that fateful and life-changing night in that meeting when I almost canceled that very first trip. I shudder to think of what my life would be like today had I followed through and cancelled our trip. I would have never met Rocsana and her sister, and the rest of those precious kids, and most likely would not be doing what we are doing in Guatemala today. But thank God that, when that significant moment came, He directed me to make what turned out to be one of the most momentous decision of my life…and believe me when I tell you this: I could not be happier or feel more fulfilled than I am right now, doing a work and a ministry that I can now see God had been preparing me for throughout my entire life.